Finding Frank and Ruth

In April of 2004 a couple of hashers were bushwhacking in Forest Park and stumbled on a man and young girl camping in the park. They notified the police, thinking an older man and a young girl living in a remote and well- hidden camp looked suspicious. As it turned out, the man, Frank, was a Viet Nam war vet and decided that he would protect his daughter from the evils of drugs, alcohol and crime by getting away from society and living off the grid. They had been there for four years.

This compelling story has been made into a movie and a book has even been written. Both, however, are highly fictionalized though use the general theme of a father and daughter living for years off-the-grid.

The true whole story is here.

I’ve wondered for years just where their camp was located. I’ve hiked every trail and fire lane in the park and can say with certainty there are many places one could disappear and not be found for years – if ever.

I found the location of their camp in May, 2020 after researching the area and using the available information. Nothing remains of the shelter. A Forest Park clean-up crew must have dismantled it and taken it out years ago. However, one thing remains and that is the rope swing Frank made for his daughter those many years ago. The small excavation in the hillside is evident as is the level spot where the dirt from the excavation was placed. A small garden spot is also there with eroding but obvious terracing. A small pool in the streambed a few feet from the shelter site is there too.

On the way to their campsite on what may have once been their trail:

Here is Ruth’s rope swing:

The terraced garden site:


A place in the stream for keeping perishables cool:

Looking up the canyon:

The site of their shelter under an old cedar tree:

A rocky trail leads a circuitous route to the site but it’s now only a game trail – and discontinuous at that. The trail is accessed from St. Helens Rd. and in a spot where Frank and his daughter could have easily entered the woods without being noticed. There may be other places where a hidden entrance could once have been but now too overgrown to be still visible.

The trail, such as it is, is now overgrown in many places with vines, blackberries, nettles, and even poison oak in a few spots. I think there may be an easier way in as well but that’s for another time.

I hope Frank resolved his demons and that Ruth was able to have a good life. They are surely very resourceful people.


Three Days in Christmas Lake Valley

Kel wanted something special for her 70th birthday and was adamant about not getting any more “stuff”. We really enjoyed our time in Christmas Lake Valley, in south central Oregon, a couple of years ago, but it was too hot to do much hiking. This time we chose the last possible time for good weather before the onset of the cool/cold season and hit it perfectly. Kel’s main birthday wish was to hike Hager Mt., a 7,185′ peak overlooking the valley on the SW side.

We booked a couple nights in the little town of Christmas Valley, planning to hike a couple of small peaks along the way, in particular, Sand Rock. Kel found this interesting little bump-in-the-desert in one of William Sullivan’s hiking books and I agreed, it looked intriguing. It appeared that a more efficient way to get to Sand Rock would be to enter the valley via Hwy 20, not the usual way via Hwy 31 so that’s what we did. A side benefit would be we would pass directly by a little peak called Frederick Butte. It turned out a little shorter to do it that way, but the downside was over 60 miles of gravel and dirt road!

Arriving at Frederick Butte, Kel decided to save her energy for the next day, but I went ahead and climbed it, entirely on cow paths, no trail, taking an hour and a half while she explored the desert around the car. We then headed out to find Sand Rock and despite miles of rocky, dirt road, we made it to its base just before sundown. This was only about a mile, total, out and back and I made the summit just as the sun was setting. Kel got there shortly after, and we headed down and drove out in the dark. Arriving in Christmas Valley, there were no open restaurants, so we ate at a gas station. Anything is good if you are hungry.

The Lakeside Terrace Motel had been completely renovated since last we were there and it’s a surprisingly nice place now with great views of a little lake in the center of town.

The next day we got an early start and hiked the 8 miles round trip and 2,100′ EG to Hager Mountain seeing only one other person the entire trip.

We found the only open restaurant that evening, a little Mexican place, and got great service and really good fare.

Leaving the next morning we headed straight for Fort Rock, exploring an old cemetery along the way.

Fort Rock is an ancient tuff ring, formed hundreds of thousands of years ago when magma broke through the bed of the ancient ice-age Christmas Lake. (Sand Rock is composed of the same but is an oval shaped lump now, having been much eroded over the eons.) I stopped by Fort Rock in August of 1969 but didn’t do much exploring and no climbing so now was our chance. We spent a couple of hours exploring and called it a day.

By now, we were tired out and ready to transition to a wet and familiar fall season.  On the drive back to town, we could see the wildfire smoke on the horizon and the incoming clouds promising the start of the long anticipated rainy season.

Frederick Butte, 1.8 miles RT, and 687′ EG.

Summit rocks of Frederick Butte:

Sand Rock:

Summit of Sand Rock:

The view from the motel:

Hager mountain from the valley:

Views along the trail up Hager Mountain:

An interesting mix of ponderosa pine, juniper, sage brush and fir.

A local in town told us that these meadows were flush with wildflowers in the summer:

Near the summit, a picnic table with arguably the best views in the state:

A view from the summit:

The summit from a little side peak to the north:

Kel, approaching the side peak’s summit:

We could see all the peaks from Mt. Shasta to Mt. Jefferson. Also, the peaks on the rim of Crater Lake. They don’t show up well in a cell phone’s wide-angle view, but we could see them just the same.

The next day we headed out to Fort Rock:

A little cemetery at the base of the rock:

My Gaia app indicated the rounded dome at center was the HP, but once there, I could see it was not. The west side looked higher so down I went and up the west side.

A view from the true HP:

The western, and true HP from near the faux HP.

Some of the terrain reminded me of some of the scenes from the Alien movies.

The final pitch to the summit. Good holds, solid rock, but don’t slip!

On the way home we could see the smoke rolling over the passes and the welcome rain clouds in the distance.

Three days, 4 hikes, 14.4 miles, 3,694′ EG, 689 miles driven.








Misc. photos for linking to other sites

Duncan-Cynthia Loop to 110922

Lower Archer trail system to 111822

Lower Archer Falls the day after the deluge of 111222

Grapes on the trail to Lower Archer, 09422

Working with Scott below the crux: 101422

Trail signs for Archer pre-installation:

Bullet Car sign as installed:

Archer Mt. sign as installed:

Archer sign after coloring and one year of weather:

Archer sign after sanding, re-coloring and sealing. July 4th, 2022:

Big Leaf Bridge sign as installed:

Cynthia sign as installed:



Ball Butte, Central Oregon, July 20, 2018.

A delightful few days in Central Oregon hiking a few peaks new to us. We also tagged Peak 7459, Peak 6679 and Tumalo Mt. while we were at it over the next couple of days.

We first drove an access road leading to a TH for Broken Top, found a little side road and set up a car camp. We proceeded to hike cross-country up the south slope of Ball Butte, a peak neither of us had tried.

The terrain at this elevation, we started at 7,129′, is very open and easy to hike. Ball Butte tops out at 8,091′.

We made good time and soon were at the base of the peak:

We luckily hit upon a perfect day with clear skies and perfect temperatures for this kind of event. Here’s a nice view of Mt. Batchelor to the south:

Weather beaten white bark pine graced the area:

We reached a slightly sketchy ridge and carried on:

We got to a spot that was challenging to downclimb but managed it by backtracking a bit:

A few more views from the summit: Broken Top on the left and Broken Hand, the tilted mesa on the right.

A close-up of Broken Hand. I climbed this on Aug. 27, 2014. It’s not nearly as difficult as it may look! -Just harder to get to.

The next couple of days we climbed the other peaks and would have stayed longer but didn’t want to car camp again, preferring to clean up and shower. However, the local motels were taking extreme advantage of the high demand for rooms and the few we could find wanted north of $500/day!

All-in-all a great few days climbing and exploring. 12.0 miles total, and 3518 EG




Dry Creek Trail, Near Trapper Creek Wilderness, June 20th, 2022

We originally planned to hike the Dry Creek trail and continue on the Big Hollow trail to Observation Peak but had to alter our plans a little.

Neither of us had ever hiked these routes so this was a new adventure. It was a bit over-the-top, too, since it was about 16 miles out-and-back with about 3,400’ EG. It was a very nice day, though, Monday the 20th with comfortable temperatures in the middle to high 50’s.

This trail got a complete log-out in May and except for a very short distance near the north end, is unburnt. The excellent trail condition and easy grade make this a good choice for a family outing.

The Dry Creek trail, # 194, is a mostly flat route that goes four miles along the west side of Dry Creek. It starts a few feet north of the start of the Trapper Creek trail, # 192. It ends at the junction with the Big Hollow trail, # 158. Most of it is built atop an old steam-era logging RR grade, so with one exception where it must climb over a small rocky ridge, is very evenly graded. It has a total rise of about 300′ from start to end so one hardly notices the elevation change. Adding that extra small rise over the ridge and the total EG is only about 450′.

The area was hit with a major windstorm in Sept. of 2020 and many trees were blown down over the route, but all have been sawn out when we hiked it. The northernmost part of the trail has a short area of burned forest from the 2020 Big Hollow fire but by far, most of the route travels through a forest of at least a hundred years old with a few older trees.

This was the worst of the blockages that the clean-up crews had to tackle.

A typical view of the route.

June was a great time to do this trail with all the fresh spring foliage.

You can see the cut where the RR went through a small ridge:

When we got near the junction with the Big Hollow trail we were met with a surprise: No bridge over Bourbon Creek! Well, to be perfectly correct, there was bridge, but not a very well built one:

Kel made a tentative venture out onto it and thought that she could do it but decided she might have trouble on the way back after tiring out from another 8 miles up and back from Observation Peak. She sat down on a log and made a great frowny face. She graciously said: “Go ahead and do Observation, Don, I have a book in the car”. I decided it would be best to go to plan B: Check out the rest of the Dry Creek Trail to the junction with the Big Hollow Trail and see if we could do the rest of the hike from the Big Hollow TH off of road 30.

I could see by the condition of the trail on the other side of the creek that few had crossed the log jam:

I continued past the junction with the Big Hollow trail and found that to access it from the other side one must cross another stream and on a not-so-sturdy bridge. This thwarted “Plan B”.

We decided to call it a day and come back later with some tools to fix this crossing. See report: Big Hollow Trail to Observation Peak. (coming soon)

This hike ended up as 8.7 miles out-and-back with 450′ EG. It would have been about 7.8 but we did a little off-trail exploring. Hike # 64.

Mt. Venus attempt #2, Mt. Margaret backcountry, Oct. 1, 2022

This was my second attempt to reach Mt. Venus in less than a week. I had recuperated only four days before going back and beating myself up again to reach this not-so-noteworthy bump in the Mt. St. Helens blast zone. I paid a price for that indiscretion, making this more like a death march than a nice outing in the woods, at least on the way back when I had to hurry to beat the setting sun. I had a light, of course, but hiking in darkness on a rocky trail when you are very tired isn’t a good idea. My first attempt was from the Norway Pass trail head (TH) on the east side of the area. This time, I tackled it from the west, at the Coldwater Lake TH. Both routes are similar elevation gain (EG) and similar mileages. One advantage of coming in from the west is it’s about two hours less driving time out and back to the TH.

Mt. Venus is the last of the named peaks I hadn’t climbed in the area plus this would have been my 218th peak of 300′ or more prominence in Skamania County. It has 640′ of prominence and rises to 5820′ elevation, just 63′ lower than the highest peaks of the area, Mt. Whittier.

I got a good early start, hitting the trail at 8:11 under clear skies and a temperature of 50 degrees. A nice change from the never-ending heat we’ve been dealing with on this endless summer.

A view of Coldwater Lake at the start of the Lakes Trail: On the horizon in the center is Minnie Peak.

The first 4.1 miles of the trail skirts the north shore of this 42-year-old lake, formed when a debris dam from the 1980 eruption blocked Coldwater Creek. The trail appears level on maps but has seemingly interminable little ups-and-downs for that four miles. Not a lot for any one of the rises, but they add up. About a quarter mile past the lake, the trail starts a relentless, but very scenic grade for another 3.6 miles to Snow Lake.

I stopped for a couple of minutes at one of the waterfalls on Coldwater Cr. to admire this impressive basalt ridge. The ridge doesn’t seem to have a name but the flat-topped bump to its left is called Blastzone Butte.

Here’s the view looking the other way (to the east). The rocky ridge left of center is Mt. Whittier and the dark saddle-shaped peak right of center is commonly known as Mt. Teragram (Margaret backwards, since it is the same height plus or minus a few inches) or alternately as Mt. Tomroy after one of my now departed hiking friends.

Farther up the canyon there are a few places where persistent rock slides have made the trail a bit difficult to navigate. Piece of cake!

Farther up the trail, views of the ridge separating this valley from Spirit Lake and Mt. St. Helens come into view. Another trail runs along that ridge, just a few feet to a few hundred feet over to the south side. That’s Coldwater Peak in the center and a better view of Blastzone Butte on the far right.

Here’s a view the other way, looking up the canyon:

I saw no huckleberries until I was less than a half mile from Snow Lake and as I rounded a corner on the trail, voila, there they were. Fat, delicious and conspiring to slow me down and keep me from my goal. I did my best to ignore them – didn’t work!

Snow Lake, 8 miles from the start. Coincidently, eight years ago I passed by here on the way to Minnie Peak and took a photo from the exact same spot. See the next photo after this one.

Oct. 1, 2022

Sept. 10, 2014: Note how much the foliage has grown in those eight years and how many of the burned snags have fallen from time and windstorms.

There’s a nice camping area on the other side of the lake:

At this point, I needed to go off-trail to get to my goal. Eight years ago, I found a halfway decent game trail on the way to Minnie Peak and followed it for miles. I could only use it for about a quarter mile this time as it didn’t go in the right direction after that. Since that Minnie Peak trip, I’ve found that it started out as a maintained trail but was abandoned and never re-built after the 1980 eruption. I thought it looked too good for a game trail! The trouble is, it’s covered in deep sand from the eruption and talented as they are, the elk do not clear logs from their trails. Still, it was better that an out-and-out bushwhack. The photo below is of the best section I noted.

Another old trail, now game trail, view:

I could now see that there was no way I could get this job done and get back before complete darkness. I went ahead far enough to at least see my goal: Mt. Venus is the left -hand bump of the two on the horizon.

Too many logs to climb over and too much sand to wallow through! Only about 2 1/2 miles to go, up and back and another 1,300′ EG. Time to admit defeat and turn around.

A few more views on the way back:

View near snow camp, above.
Point 5207 left of center on the horizon, above. Must do that one later.
Mt. St. Helens on the far horizon and Coldwater Peak left of center, above.

Below: the final rays of the setting sun on Minnie Peak, in the distance.

It’s amazing how much the forest has recovered in the years since the 1980 eruption. This terrain looked like the surface of the moon for years, except for the downed trees.


Hike # 95 for 2022, 17.0 miles, 4,062′ EG




Bare Mountain, Skamania County

This report describes two trips to Bare Mountain. One with Kelly and the other with my friend Jamie, three months later.

This interesting peak and its adjacent crater appears to be geologically fairly recent. The USGS says it’s about 8,000 years old and the crater was formed when lava came in contact with ground water, forming a “phreatic explosion crater”.

Bare Mountain is very easy to reach, being just 23 miles north of Hwy 14 with all but about 8 miles of the trip on paved roads.

The rocky high point on the north side of the crater rim stands at 4360′ elevation, contrasting with the bottom of the crater at about 3820′ elevation.

On my first trip to the peak, I had no idea what the best route would be. I chose what looked to be the shortest way: a bushwhack, coming in from the west side. This proved more difficult than anticipated, but the foliage provided good handholds. The final 150 feet or so was daunting, but we were committed by then and didn’t want to go all the way back down to try yet another unknown route.

Here’s Kelly, emerging onto the crater rim from the near vertical jungle we’d come through: Still smiling!

We still had a way to go, and it looked to be challenging, to say the least. There wasn’t much of a game trail – perhaps the elk and deer are smart enough not to go places like this.

Here’s Kel, wondering “what am I doing here?!”

There was one fun traverse, but we made it around just fine.

Here’s a close-up of the crater floor, 540 feet below:

We safely made it to the summit and decided to continue heading to the east and found some easy game trails. Reaching the road, we hiked back to the car, glad we survived!

On my next trip to Bare Mountain, three months later, I invited my friend Jamie. There’s a handy gravel road around the south side of the peak so we parked as close as we could get to the low point on the crater rim.

Bare Mountain really is bare on the south side!





















We climbed up to the rim and descended a mostly mossy route to the crater floor:

On the way down, we found and used a good game trail: Also, we had a good view of the summit ridge and high point Kel and I climbed a few months earlier.

Approaching the crater floor:


We wandered around, taking in the sights:

On the way out, nice game trail!

This was a fun, albeit short adventure and then we were off to Twin Rocks for some more fun.